Irritability in Children and Adolescents With OCD

Behav Ther. 2021 Jul;52(4):883-896. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2020.11.001. Epub 2020 Nov 12.


Irritability is a common, impairing transdiagnostic symptom in childhood psychopathology, though it has not been comprehensively studied in pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Further, the central cognitive behavioral treatment component for OCD, exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP), has been recently proposed as a treatment for irritability. This study aimed to evaluate whether certain clinical characteristics are associated with irritability in pediatric OCD and whether irritability reduces following ERP. Participants were 161 youth (ages 7-17) with OCD and a caregiver participating in a randomized controlled trial of D-cycloserine or pill placebo augmented ERP. Participants completed validated assessments during treatment. Irritability was significantly and positively associated with depressive symptoms, defiance, functional impairment, and family accommodation, but was not associated with pretreatment OCD severity, symptom dimensions, obsessive beliefs. Irritability significantly declined following treatment, with over half of youth with any pretreatment irritability experiencing clinically significant change, though this change was not related to OCD improvement. Results suggest that irritability may be a marker of psychiatric comorbidity, parental accommodation, and impairment in youth with OCD. Implications for the exposure-based treatment of irritability are discussed.

Trial registration: NCT00864123.

Keywords: CBT; OCD; disruptive behavior; impairment; youth.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Implosive Therapy*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder* / therapy
  • Parents
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data